Thai radio station promotes debate

Violence in the south is still ongoing despite six-month-old peace deal, but a new radio station aims to change that.

There’s nothing fancy about Media Selatan (Media South in English).  The radio station’s studio has just enough equipment so it can function, but these are people with a mission.  The programming schedule is up on a white board with some notes.

In the six months since the Thai government signed the first-ever peace deal with one of the separatist armed groups in the Malay-speaking south, the violence has continued with both sides killing and injuring each other on a daily basis.  Still, the peace process has opened up the scope for public debate and that’s where Media Selatan comes in.

 In the hour before his show begins, the owner and one of the station’s radio hosts, Wan Ahmed, told me Media Selatan is the first of its kind.

“Most of the Melayu [Malay] radio stations emphasize on religion or entertainment,” he told me in Thai through a translator. “But radio stations that emphasize information sharing, and being a voice of the people is almost non-existent.  People say Media Selatan is the first radio station working in this area and is well accepted by all parties, government and the public.  So it makes us work with more enthusiasm.” he said.

 The station’s most famous host is Astora Jabat. He says he is worried for his life because so many people who’ve been involved in the peace process have been killed, but he insists that people don’t want to go back to days of the conflict.

I watched as Media Selatan’s showcase programme, Hari Dunia Ini in the local language, Pattani-Melayu or The World Today in English went to air, and it immediately became clear that these journalists are very serious about providing listeners with a range of opinions so they can make up their own minds about issues.

They started by interviewing Thailand’s Deputy Prime Minister in charge of the evacuation of Thai students from the political turmoil in Cairo.  Later on in the show they discussed an infrastructure project, which they argued is a waste of money because the community doesn’t need it.

In the past they’ve also hosted the chief of the armed rebel group Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN) or in English, the National Revolutionary Front.  Hassan Taib is officially still considered a terrorist in Thailand’s three southernmost provinces under emergency military rule.

Media Selatan’s already become very popular in the five months since it started and it is causing ripples on the airwaves and the community.